Jen Doll and photographer Eva O’Leary venture to the Lani Kai Island Resort in Fort Meyers Beach, Florida — a hotel known for choosing to host a seemingly never-ending stream of spring breakers to uncover how they not only survive, but manage to embrace the drunken debauchery of the spring break set — within reason, of course.
Then there’s the Lani Kai, which has been a relatively safe space for partiers for 25 years and counting. How does Mr. C do it?
I ask: why become a haven for spring-breakers? Why court that sort of trouble at all? “They’re the future,” Mr. C says. When the hotel started hosting spring-breakers, it employed ten security guards; now it has at least 18. But “these are good kids,” Mr. C clarifies. “Every once in a while, you get somebody that takes it too far, and you just get rid of them. Girls Gone Wild, they tried to come here, and we had none of that.” I ask about the booty-shake contest, and he laughs: “You gotta give them something.” Another thing the resort provides: a cheap all-you-can-eat brunch, because the kids “do not eat! They mostly want to drink. I want them to get at least one good meal.” Watching MTV’s Spring Break series from the comfort of my parents’ den in the ’90s, I never thought about those gyrating college kids getting a square meal, or who was keeping them safe.
I snap a picture of a black cotton dress hanging nearby that declares “I SURVIVED SPRING BREAK,” and marvel again at how this place is both homey and exotic, smutty and sweet. Like an insect cased in amber, the Lani Kai remains something of an untouched gem, pure in its impurity. And that’s what makes it, for better or worse, a spring-break touchstone. You can come here and behave like a 21-year-old again, no matter how old you actually are—as long as you’ve got proper ID.